According to Activision’s fourth quarter earnings report for 2016, the company was concerned that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare “wasn’t the success we planned.” At least, that's how Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg put it. Hirshberg also mentioned that the “space setting didn’t resonate” with players as much as the company had hoped it would.
As such, the “2017 title will take Call of Duty back to its roots” and “traditional combat will once again take center stage.” The currently unnamed title is being developed by Sledgehammer Games, and the CEO has apparently “never been more excited creatively or commercially about our three-year Call of Duty slate.” As a reminder, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was the best-selling game in the US for 2016, even if it didn’t quite reach the numbers of previous titles. So, as much as, Activision didn’t quite call the game a failure, the company certainly implied it. Granted, the implication might come from the fact that AAA games have huge budgets and often require an exceptional sales number to profit. That said, Hirshberg was still rather unclear about what he might have meant by “back to its roots” or “traditional combat.”
What exactly do those two phrases mean? Call of Duty comes from a long line of FPS games that began with titles like DOOM and Wolfenstein. Thus, Activision could mean anything from gameplay to setting. In terms of gameplay, the first Call of Duty, from 2003, set the standard for the formula and required the following three things. One: the ability to shoot from the hip for more rapid gameplay or shoot down the sight for more accuracy and slow gameplay. Two: the option to hide to gain health or pick up a health pack, again slow or fast. Three: there will be hitscan, where enemies hit you as soon as they pull the trigger, instead of the projectile, where enemies hit you with a slow moving projectile that you can dodge.
This formula was all well and fine for a very long time, obviously. Developers changed the settings, added varied weaponry, and called it a success. Which it was, until 2016's DOOM came out and we all remembered why we loved the older shooters much. What DOOM does, and what Call of Duty needs an injection of, is fast-paced gameplay that lets the player feel successful when playing. This requires shooting from the hip to be more accurate, sights to be mostly removed, special kills that bring you close to the enemy (glory kills) for health, and projectile enemy fire. Perhaps these are the kind of changes we can look forward to in Activision's next Call of Duty game.
More likely, however, will be a change in setting rather than gameplay. This could more easily end badly, simply because the older Call of Duty have already walked down that path with WWI, WWII, and variations on the Cold War. Granted, Battlefield 1 showed us that going back to the past can be done well. However, that isn't to say that Battlefield 1 does anything different than adhere to the formula mentioned above. The only thing that might set it apart are the modes of gameplay and sparkly set pieces like taking down a zeppelin. But again, I think whether or not the new Call of Duty is good hangs on gameplay rather than good looks.
“Traditional combat” could refer to either gameplay or setting, and unfortunately judging by Activision's mention of “space,” my money is on setting. The Call of Duty needs to re-vamp in gameplay more than anything and changing the scenery won't help that. It's not just space we didn't like, Activision.